WELLFLEET — A new light is flickering on Wellfleet’s ever-darkening Main Street. Pizza Spinello opened its doors on Jan. 3 to a bevy of townspeople hungry for a new dinner spot and for whom, at this point, even takeout is a boon.
The Roman-style pizza joint moved into 317B Main St. in December after operating as a popup at Bagel Hound on Route 6 last winter. Three days a week, Spinello takes online orders, then dishes out six kinds of square pies made the “al taglio” way for takeout.
According to owners John and Jennifer D’Aponte, “so far, so good.”
Recent transplants from Brooklyn, the D’Apontes say they feel at home in the space beneath where the Lighthouse restaurant used to be. The significance of the location is not lost on them. The Lighthouse, which closed its doors in 2018 after 40 years of getting Wellfleeters through the winter, was the last remaining year-round restaurant on Main Street.
“The idea that we were able to open a restaurant right downstairs from the old Lighthouse, it’s dope,” said John D’Aponte. “We feel really lucky to be here,” Jennifer added.
The Septic Issue
When the Lighthouse’s owner, Joe Wanco, died in 2019 and the family began looking to sell the business, they ran into trouble, said Sharon Inger, chair of the Wellfleet Zoning Board of Appeals. The transfer of the restaurant would have triggered a required upgrade to the property’s septic system, and the expense might have deterred potential buyers.
For a retail store like Ragg Time, the current occupant, moving in meant “they wouldn’t have to deal with the septic issue,” said Inger.
“Anytime there is any sort of transfer from one entity to another, that is going to trigger a review, depending on what the current regulations are,” said Health Agent Heith Martinez. In cases where systems were put in before current regulations were adopted, he said, “there is a potential to bring something up to standard.”
“The fact that this has been a food establishment is the most important aspect of this story,” John D’Aponte said.
And because the restaurant is takeout only — it has no bathroom for customers and no dishwasher — the existing septic system could accommodate the business, Martinez said.
Properties along Main Street have other septic stories to tell. The derelict News Dealer building, which has been shuttered for 20 years, has a failed septic system. And across the street from Spinello at 326 Main St., would-be coffee shop entrepreneurs looking to open last year could not do so without an overhaul of that property’s septic system, the D’Apontes said.
“It feels like we got the last viable grandfathered-in spot,” Jennifer said.
And the number of viable locations seems to be dwindling further. Upstairs, when Ragg Time moved in, the Wancos removed the restaurant’s bar and converted the kitchen into office space. That could make the space much harder for a restaurant to move back in in the future.
“We have restaurants that have a pre-existing use, but if they lose their pre-existing use and someone wants to have a restaurant there in the future, they’re not going to be able to because of the septic,” select board member Ryan Curley said during a Nov. 16 meeting on the town’s watershed management plan. “The loss of those is really impactful.”
A Barn-Raising Vibe
For the D’Apontes, it was a long road to this location. “I drove up and down from Orleans to Provincetown, talking to anyone who had an oven,” John said.
Between not finding ovens and facing leases controlled by off-Cape conglomerates, “there were no viable options until we found this,” he said. The previous renter, Bōl, a smoothie and breakfast spot, packed up at the end of last summer, and the D’Apontes managed to slide right into a lease with property owner Michele Wanco.
Support began to pour in when word got around that a new restaurant was opening. Trudy Vermehren donated her refrigerators to the D’Apontes after her restaurant, Fox & Crow, shut its doors for good last fall. Neighbors joined in to help John wheel the refrigerators down Main Street. “It was a real barn-raising vibe,” John said.
Jean Bessette, who runs the clothing store Ragg Time Ltd. at the front of the building, hopes the restaurant will help bring life to Main Street. “Customers come into my store from across the Cape, they’re hungry, but I have nowhere to point them to,” Bessette said.
“Lord knows everybody would love to have a coffee shop,” said Sharon Inger. “Or a bistro.”
“Pizza,” John D’Aponte offered, “is something everybody agrees on.”
Maybe Not Never
Many properties on Main Street, like the one where the Lighthouse used to be, do not conform to septic and zoning regulations for restaurants, including parking requirements. According to the town’s zoning bylaws, a nonconforming use can be changed to a “more nearly conforming use” but cannot be changed to a less conforming one. A nonconforming use that has been abandoned for two or more years “shall not be reestablished,” the bylaw provides.
The parking requirement, said Inger, “we always waive in the central district.” And, she added, the rules related to reestablishing a nonconforming use “don’t mean you can never have it. It means you start over with a special permit. It doesn’t have to have a scarlet A on it that says it can never be a restaurant again.”
Inger noted that in her 10 years on the board, it has never been asked for a restaurant permit.
Jennifer D’Aponte said she hoped restaurants could repopulate Main Street once a central sewer system is installed. But the completion of a downtown sewer system is not likely to happen until 2031, according to Town Administrator Rich Waldo.
“We require the pot shops to stay open all year, so if you want marijuana in the central district, you have two options,” Inger said. “But if they give you the munchies, forget it.”
For now, Pizza Spinello could be the cure.